The Globe and Mail
June 1, 2023
MONTREAL – B’nai Brith Canada is reiterating a request to alter the Quebec Government’s controversial Bill 96, An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec.
The bill, passed a year ago, ostensibly promotes the continued use of the French language in Quebec, but it has been met with fierce opposition from a wide range of critics, including B’nai Brith Canada, who proposed an amendment which would create an exception for religious clergy, including rabbis.
In May, 2022, B’nai Brith alerted the Government of Quebec that Bill 96 would make it difficult for Jewish congregations to hire rabbis and teachers from outside Canada. Faced with a dearth of clergy and religious teachers, Quebec synagogues and Jewish schools are often obliged to recruit in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
Since 1977, the Charter of the French Language, also known in English as Bill 101, had allowed children of rabbis and religious teachers from other countries to obtain an exemption that permitted them to attend English-language Jewish schools for three years. This exemption was able to be renewed several times. Under Bill 96, the exemption is not renewable, making Quebec far less attractive to popular rabbis and religious teachers.
“Our consultation over the past weeks with the community has demonstrated that our fears were not exaggerated,” said Marvin Rotrand, National Director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights. “Schools and synagogues have confirmed to us that qualified candidates from outside Canada are hesitant to accept offers in Quebec. We’re thus again asking that the law be amended to address this issue.”
While B’nai Brith has criticized the law as a direct attack on the Canadian Constitution and its guarantees of minority-language protection, it has chosen not to join the legal challenges to the law at this time, preferring to engage with the Government.
“B’nai Brith believes that the Government of Quebec should do more to foster conditions that allow Jewish youth in the province to see a prosperous future for themselves,” said Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith’s Chief Executive Officer. “If Bill 96 continues to impede the ability of Quebec’s Jewish community to recruit talented teachers from abroad, the once-vibrant community will continue to atrophy.”
In 1971, there were more than 120,000 Jews in Quebec. Recent census data shows a population of more than 90,000.